Nvidia GeForce GTX 590 Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/Nvidia_Geforce_GTX_590/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The GTX 590 is a graphics card designed for extreme gamers looking for the optimal gaming experience, and is set to become the flagship product of the GeForce 500-series. To facilitate this high level of gaming, the GTX 590 utilizes dual GF110 GPUs that feature 1024 CUDA cores (512 per GPU), 32 Streaming Multiprocessors, 128 Texture units and 96 ROP Units. In addition, the GTX 590 includes a large 3GB frame buffer with a 384-bit interface to improve performance at the higher-end. All of this should allow the GTX 590 to compete aggressively against the HD 6990, as the two battle it out for the title of being the fastest graphics card currently on the market.

Unlike the HD 6990, however, the GTX 590 is designed to be a very efficient and quiet solution that doesn’t sacrifice overall acoustics to achieve a higher performance level. This is done via the use of dual vapor chamber thermal solutions and an extruded 90mm intake fan. Nvidia has even gone as far as optimizing the PCB by adding two ounces of copper in both the ground and power layers. The acoustics level of the HD 6990 proved very loud at the highest fan RPM, so it will be interesting to see if Nvidia succeeded in creating a solution that is powerful, yet still efficient and quiet.

The GTX 590 is going to enter the market with an MSRP of $699, so it’s clear that Nvidia is not holding any punches, as this is the exact pricing of the HD 6990. This means if Nvidia can match or exceed the performance of the HD 6990 but do so with lower acoustics, then they could have AMD in a tough spot.

In this review we will be pitting the GTX 590 against many single and dual GPU graphics cards currently on the market, including the HD 6990, but we have also recently updated our benchmarks to include a wider range of SLI and CrossFire configurations. This way we will have a comprehensive list of the different SLI and CrossFire options available, which gives us a better understanding of the performance comparison between the different configurations.

Specifications
CUDA Cores
1024 (512 Per GPU)
Gfx/Processor Clock
607/1215 MHz
Memory Config 3072MB GDDR5 (1536MB Per GPU)
Memory Speed
3414MHz
Power Connectors
2 x 8-pin
Power
635 Watts
SLI
2-way
Length
11 Inches
Thermal
Dual-Slot Fansink
Outputs
DL-DVI, DL-DVI, Mini-DP

The GTX 590 arrived at the Neo labs in style, as the packaging closely resembled a World War II era ammo case. On the front panel of the casing was the Nvidia logo along with the words "Top Secret".  Nvidia also included personalized dog tags, but I doubt you'll find us laid low on the digital battlefield now that we have the GTX 590 in our arsenal.

The overall look of the GTX 590 closely resembles that of the second generation GTX 295, but internally the GTX 590 is an entirely new monster. This is due to its use of dual GF110 GPUs that include a total of 8 Graphics Processing Clusters (GPCs) that house 32 Streaming Multiprocessors, 1024 CUDA cores, 128 Texture units and 96 ROPs. So, from an architectural standpoint the GTX 590 comes equipped with double the internal specifications of the GTX 580. However, the clock speeds of both the memory and GPU had to be reduced to maintain a TPD below 375W. The reduction puts the GPU clock speeds at 607MHz, and the memory is rated at 853MHz (3414MHz effective). The GTX 590 also includes double the frame buffer of the GTX 580, as the board has six 64-bit memory controllers giving it a 384-bit interface with 1.5GB of memory per GPU (3GB total).

The GTX 590 uses an aluminum backplate to cool the components on the back of the PCB, but unlike other graphics cards the backplate is separated into two pieces, which levels the components throughout the middle of the card lacking a cooling solution..

The GTX 590 uses the PCI Express 2.0 interface standard and has a x16 rating. The board includes a single SLI bridge connector that adds 2-way Quad-SLI support. When used in an SLI configuration, it is recommended a motherboard with at least one additional slot between them be used to ensure optimal airflow.

The GTX 590 has a TDP (Thermal Design Power) of 365W, so to power the board Nvidia has included dual 150W 8-pin power connectors. The connectors are found toward the end of the PCB and are side facing. To properly power the GTX 590, it is recommended that a power supply with a rating of least 700W be used. Also, it is important for the power supply to have strong 12V rails. A list of certified power supply can be found at Nvidia's website.

Nvidia has incorporated multiple designs into the GTX 590 to ensure the best acoustic and thermal levels possible. One example is the largely concave heatsink shroud. This will prevent the intake fan from being blocked when using two GTX 590 graphics cards in SLI, which will increase the airflow to throughout the graphics card.

Another cooling feature is that the rear portion of the heatsink cover is open. This will allow the heat from the second GPU to be exhaust out of the card. This design will improve the overall cooling, but it also means that a portion of the hot air will be exhaust into the chassis.

One major change from other cards in the 500-series is that the GTX 590 includes three dual link DVI connectors and a Mini DisplayPort. This makes the GTX 590 the first single card solution from Nvidia to support Nvidia Surround and 3D Surround technologies. In addition, the GTX 590 can drive four Independent monitors, with each connector supporting resolutions up to 2560x1600 pixels.

The GTX 590 measures 11 inches in length, which is about an inch shorter than the HD 6990. This will allow it to fit in smaller cases than AMD's card, which could actually be a big selling point for this product. At 11 inches the GTX 590 is also roughly the same size as a HD 6970, and just a notch bigger than the GTX 580.

To add to the already stellar look of the GTX 590 Nvidia has included a LED lit GeForce logo near the 8-pin power connectors. Aside from just looks though the LED lights can also be a visual clue if the wrong power cables are inserted into the 8-pin power connectors, or if the board is not being supplied with enough power.

The GTX 590 is designed to provide optimal gaming performance, but the cooling solution is also optimized to deliver best-in-class thermal performance and acoustics. This is accomplished through features such as dual vapor chamber heatsinks and an extruded 90mm intake fan. The fan pulls air in from under the graphics card and pushes it through each GPU heatsink. This allows each core to operate within their thermal limits, while the 90mm fan generates low noise levels.

Under the shroud, the vapor chamber heatsinks are separated to different ends of the PCB, which will increase the thermal performance by isolating the heat output of each GPU into its own thermal zone. Also, since the GTX 580 utilizes dual vapor chamber coolers there are no heatpipes to reduce the airflow moving through the fin array. This allows the 90mm fan to be more efficient at low RPM, which reduces even further reduces the noise output.

The vapor chamber heatsinks themselves are similar to those used on other graphics cards in the 500 series. The heatsinks consist of a large copper base that makes contact with the cores. The heat is then transferred to the aluminum fins through the vapor chamber, where the air from the 90mm fan can exhaust the heat away from the cores. This design is very efficient and should work well, even on a dual GPU graphics card.

The board design of the GTX 590 is very unique as it features a 12-layer PCB that has two ounces of copper in both the power and ground layers. This improves the dispersion of heat and it also increases the longevity of the graphics card. In addition, Nvidia has also included a 10-phase advanced digital controller that has over-volting capabilities, and there are two dual-phase controllers that power the GDDR5 memory. In all, this is a very robust board design and it should increase the power efficiency and total lifespan of the GTX 590.

 

Overclocking:

When it came to overclocking, Nvidia told us to expect peformance gains in the range of 10% to 15%, and that proved to be bang on with our testing. In our labs we were able to increase the GPU clock speed to 662Mhz, which is a 10% increase over the reference clock. Also, since the CUDA clock is locked at double the base clock speed this set the CUDA engine at 1324MHz. The memory also yielded a similar overclock and it was able to be increased up to 912MHz (3650MHz effective).

Hardware Configuration:

Software:

ATI cards released prior to the 6800 series will be tested using AMD's Catalyst 10.8 drivers, while the 400 series NVIDIA graphics cards will be tested using their 260.89 drivers. All card released after the 6800 series will be used with their release drivers.The GTX 590 was tested with with Nvidia's 297.59 driver.

We are in the process of retesting all of our graphics cards with the latest drivers and should have the results ready within the next few weeks. For AMD we are using their early release of the 11.4 driver, while we are using Nvidia's 267.31 driver for testing. We are also testing new games to add to our reviews including Total War: Shogun 2, Dragon Age 2, F1, Crysis 2 and more.

Benchmarks DX11:

Benchmarks DX10:

Test Settings:

All in game benchmarks were performed at resolutions of 1280x1024, 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600. Vsync is disabled in the control panel, the AA is set to x4 with AF set to x16 and all the in-game settings are turned up to high.

Usage:

Unigine Heaven will be used to gauge the power requirement and temperature of the graphics cards. The program applies a very heavy load to the GPU. For the minimum temperature and power consumption the system will be left in an idle state for 15 minutes and for load we will run Unigine in its entirety at the highest settings.

Comparison Specifications AMD:

 
AMD Radeon HD 6870
AMD Radeon HD 6850
ATI  Radeon
HD 5750
ATI Radeon HD 5770
ATI Radeon HD 5830
ATI Radeon HD 5870
AMD Radeon HD 6950
AMD Radeon HD 6970
Processing Cores
1120
960
720
800
1120
1600
1408 1536
Core Clock
900MHz
775MHz
700MHz
850MHz
800MHz
850MHz
800MHz
880MHz
Memory Clock
1050MHz
1000MHz
1150MHz
1200MHz
1150MHz
1200MHz
1250MHz
1375MHz
Memory Interface
256-bit
256-bit
128-bit
128-bit
256-bit
256-bit
256-bit
256-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
2GB GDDR5
2GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm

 

Comparison Specifications Nvidia:

 
Nvidia GeForce GTS 450
Nvidia Geforce GTX 460 FTW
Nvidia GeForce GTX 470
Nvidia GeForce GTX 480
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti
Nvidia GeForce GTX 570
Nvidia Geforce GTX 580
Processing Cores
192
336 448 480 384 480 512
Core Clock
783MHz
850MHz
607MHz
700MHz
822MHz
742MHz
782MHz
Memory Clock
900MHz
1000MHz
837MHz
924MHz
1002MHz
950MHz
1002MHz
Memory Interface
128-bit
256-bit
320-bit
384-bit
256-bit
320-bit
384-bit
Memory Type
1GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1.25GB GDDR5
1.5GB GDDR5
1GB GDDR5
1.25GB GDDR5
1.5GB GDDR5
Fabrication Process
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm
40nm

3DMark Vantage is the stunning sequel to 3DMark 06. Futuremark's benchmarking programs have always been at the center of every bragging match. The best way to show that you've got the greatest gaming rig, is to show that you've got the highest 3DMark score. Vantage does just that. It puts your system through a series of strenuous tests, and provides you with a score to brag about!

In our first synthetic benchmark the GTX 590 outperforms the HD 6990 across the board. However, it should be noted that the reduced clock speeds are slightly impacting the performance, as two GTX 570 graphics cards in SLI are slightly faster.

Futuremark's latest 3DMark 2011 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading.

In 3DMark 11, the results are flipped in favor of AMD's 6990 especially in the higher settings, which is due to the larger memory capacity on AMD's dual GPU graphics card. Still, when looking at the performance increase from that of the GTX 580, the GTX 590's performance is still very impressive considering this card is "only" $200 more than a GTX 580. Both the GTX 580 and GTX 570 show better performance than the GTX 590 only when run in a SLI configuration.

Unigine Heaven became very popular very fast, because it was one of the first major DirectX 11 benchmarks. It makes great use of tessellation to create a visually stunning...heaven.

Unigine 2.1 is our last synthetic benchmark, and the results so far are two to one in favor of AMD's hardware. However, the frame rate difference is only noticeable in the highest resolution, and the GTX 590 is showing incredible scaling over any single GPU card currently available. Also, with the overclocked settings the GTX 590 was able to slightly outperform dual GTX 580s.

Aliens vs Predator is a DX11 Benchmark that runs though a scene straight out of the classic 80’s movie, Aliens. Since it uses DX11, it can often be more than a graphics card can handle.

In Aliens vs Predator, the GTX 590 achieved a high frame rate across all of our tested resolutions, but the HD 6990 was still fastest at the higher end. We are again seeing the GTX 590 perfom better than the dual GTX 570s once overclocked.

DiRT 2 is the sequel to Colin McRae: Dirt and it was one of the first games to incorporate DX11 features such as tessellation, accelerated high definition ambient occlusion and Full Floating point high dynamic range lighting. This makes it a perfect game to test the latest DX11 hardware.

DiRT 2 brought out strong performances for Nvidia based graphics cards, as even dual GTX 560 Ti graphic cards performed better than the HD 6990. We are continuing to see how the GTX 590 essentially performs at the same level as dual GTX 570 graphics cards, jumping out slightly ahead once overclocked.

H.A.W.X 2 is a combat flight sim that allows gamers to control various aircraft and fight it out across the skies of the Middle East. Aside from the gameplay though, H.A.W.X 2 is an interesting game to benchmark because of the high levels of in-game tessellation. This gives the edge to Nvidia based graphics cards.

Nvidia cards in SLI, including the GTX 590, handily outperformed the HD 6990.

Lost Planet 2 is a sci-fi action-adventure game from CAPCOM that puts players on a fictional planet called E.D.N. III 10 years after the events of the first game. Like the other new games added to our reviews, Lost Planet 2 includes support for DX11 features to enhance the lighting, charters and environments.

Lost Planet 2 is another title that greatly favored Nvidia's Fermi architecture over AMD's. This held true across all resolutions, but the gap did close a bit at 2560x1600.

Metro 2033 puts you right in the middle of post apocalyptic Moscow, battling Mutants, rivals and ratio-active fallout. The game is very graphics intensive and utilizes DX11 technology, making it a good measure of how the latest generation of graphics cards performs under the latest standard.

The GTX 590 performed better when testing the game at lower two resolutions, but the larger frame buffer on the HD 6990 meant it was able to pull ahead in the higher end. The GTX 590 once again demonstrates performance that is either just above or below dual GTX 570 graphics cards, depending on the GPU clock speed.

Batman: Arkham Aslyum mixes extraordinary visuals with great gameplay, in order to make an excellent benchmark. It's not a stressful as Crysis, but it can still push cards to their limits.

In Batman Arkham Asylum, the GTX 590 came out well ahead of the HD 6990, and again it settled just above and below the performance levels of the dual GTX 570 graphics cards, depending on the card settings.

Crysis Warhead is one of the most graphically intensive games on the mainstream market. It's graphically breathtaking, and can bring any system crashing to it's knees.

In Crysis Warhead the GTX 590 was on average about 10 FPS slower than the HD 6990 in all resolutions, which is due to the HD 6990's larger frame buffer. However, the GTX 590 still managed to achieve high frame rates across the board, and even reached 50 FPS at 2560x1600, which is very impressive for this game.

Just Cause 2 places you in Panau, Southeast Asia as Agent Rico Rodriguez. The game is a third-person shooter that pits you against countless enemies with the opportunity for plenty of environment destruction. With explosions and gun fire galore, this game is perfect for testing out the latest hardware.

The GTX 590 came out slightly behind in Just Cause 2, which puts the total score in our testing at five wins for Nvidia and six for AMD. That's about as close as you can get, but Nvidia does appear to have a slight edge in games that don't require a 4GB frame buffer.

Temperature:

To measure core GPU temperature, MSI's Kombustor was used. The idle temperature was taken after leaving nothing running for up to 15 minutes. The load temperature was taken 15 minutes after starting Kombuster for Multi-Core graphics cards

In terms of overall temperature the GTX 590 at load performs at roughly the same thermal level as the HD 6990. The difference between the two cards is that the HD 6990 is extremely loud, while the GTX 590 has a very low acoustic level. So, while they both share a low 80°C thermal rating at load, the GTX 590 is able to do so without being overly noisy even at a high fan RPM.

Power Usage:

To measure power usage, a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter was used. Note that the above numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we took the sustained peak power drain readings at the end of a 30 minute Kombustor run.

For a dual GPU graphics card, the power rating of the GTX 590 is actually very good. In comparison to all the other products that utilized dual cores (in either SLI/CrossFire or a single solution) the GTX 590 consumes the least amount of power. Still, the total system power rating was over 500W, which will require a power supply with a rating of at least 700W to fully power the board and additional components.

 

Conclusion:

When a flagship product such as the GTX 590 is released, the first aspect most inquiring minds gravitate to is the overall performance level and in that regard the GTX 590 is an exceptional graphics card that can compete frame-for-frame with the fastest cards currently available. This is not to say the GTX 590 is an outright HD 6990 killer, as the results in our benchmarking tests tended to go back and forth between the two models, with the GTX 590 performing better in five of our eleven benchmarks.

So, the performance difference between the two appears to be very close, but the HD 6990 might just have the slightest performance edge due to its larger frame buffer and higher clock speeds. However, it really depends on the game and which architecture it is optimized for. Also, the performance of the GTX 590 essentially matches dual GTX 570 graphics cards, but with the GTX 590 you get that performance level on a single PCB along with a lower TDP.

Where the GTX 590 really stands out over the HD 6990 is in its total size, sound and power consumption. The HD 6990 is unfortunately extremely loud, especially when the fan is at high RPM, which can be rather annoying when dealing with the sound for long periods of time, or when it interferes with your gaming experience. The GTX 590 on the other hand is an extremely quiet solution and even when the fan is at high RPM, the overall acoustics are still very good. We were actually very impressed with this aspect of the GTX 590, as this card is definitely the quietest dual GPU graphics card we have used to-date. The GTX 590 also manages to come in a full inch shorter than the HD 6990, which gives it a wider availability of supported cases, and it also uses slightly less power than the HD 6990.

The GTX 590 is also a very unique solution, being the first single PCB graphics card from Nvidia to support Nvidia Surround and 3D Surround technologies. This could be a huge selling point for consumers looking to optimize space and still have full access to these features. The GTX 590 also gives users the ability to configure the GPU settings via the Nvidia control panel. This can either be setting the GPUs to scale together in an SLI configuration or you can also set one GPU to run 3D applications, while the second GPU is dedicated solely to PhysX.

In conclusion, the GTX 590 is a very elegant graphics card which boasts performance that rivals, and at at times even exceeds that of the HD 6990, but it does so at quieter noise levels. Additionally, the GTX 590 natively supports technologies such as 3D Surround out-of-the-box, and the GPUs can even be configured to best fit the user’s demands. All of these along with the $699 price point make it an excellent option for any high-end gamer willing to shell out top dollar for a serious gaming solution.

Lastly, we have Nvidia describing the GTX 590 in their own words.

»Neoseeker.com

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